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Sunday Late Night: Poor Conservatism, Failed Again

Poor conservatism, the philosophy that cannot fail.

Conservatism in America, you see, can only be failed. It is so robust, so natural, so flowing-from-our-Creator — that it can never fail. But its practitioners, those who pretend to be conservatives, those who co-opt it for their own ends?

They fail conservatism, and America is so bereft for that failure. Because then, sometimes, Americans think the unthinkable: that conservatism has failed. Which, of course, is unpossible. So — the hunt is on! What faux-conservatives can be identified now? What pretenders have absconded with the conservative mantle?

What usurpers have failed conservatism this time?

Craig Shirley and Donald Devine, longtime conservative operatives and Reagan hagiographers (hereinafter referred to as Shirley Devine, a name John Waters will surely co-opt soon) have identified the most recent failers-of-conservatism, on Fred Hiatt’s funny pages today. You might be surprised to know who they are.

Karl Rove. And his boss, George W Bush.

That’s right — the architect of the eight disastrous years of the Bush presidency “is no conservative.” And neither is his boss. Shirley Devine count off Karl Rove’s four pillars of the Bush presidency, and expose them as rank betrayals of the modern American conservatism of Buckley, Goldwater and Reagan.

Middle-class tax cuts? JFK did that, so it’s not rooted in pure conservatism.

Faith-based initiatives? Just leveling the playing field for access to the ever-expanding federal trough, and started by Jimmy Carter. Hardly conservative at all.

Education? No Child Left Behind trampled states’ rights. Good goal, badly executed.

Entitlements? A $9.4 trillion unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit, the largest federal liability since LBJ. Oh, and a big F for not privatizing Social Security.

Then, Shirley Devine proceed to pick apart further betrayals of conservatism that were central to the Bush Administration (even though we didn’t hear much about how bad they were from conservatives at the time):

And we all remember steel tariffs, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, a massive agricultural subsidy bill, and other spending and regulatory moves by the Bush administration that tilted power toward Washington and away from individuals and states.

So, America, do you think conservatism has failed because of the failures of Karl Rove and George W Bush? Well, you’re wrong — it hasn’t. In fact, the failures you ascribe to Karl Rove and the Bush Adminstration aren’t due to conservatism at all. Those failures are, in fact, simply due to one simple fact about Rove’s and Bush’s brand of conservatism (that no conservatives bothered to point out to us at the time):

It is not modern conservatism, not the brand that today is finding voice in the “tea party” movement, and certainly not the populist conservatism that found electoral success beginning in the late 1970s.

See, Rove and Bush were an aberration. Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan are populist; they are finding their voice again in the “tea party” movement (love those scare quotes, Shirley Devine! As if we don’t know what the “tea party” is: a GOP-aligned, DC-controlled, lobbyist-staffed exploit-the-rubes project, centrally managed and corporately funded).

Anyway.

So, citizens! When modern conservative GOP candidates knock at your door to ask for your vote this November and again in November 2012, remember this message from Shirley Devine: American discomfort with and alienation from the failures of Karl Rove’s plan for the Bush Administration to usher in a Permanent Republican Majority? Those are NOT objections to conservatism.

Rove and Bush are not conservatives.

You should, in fact, probably vote for the conservative this fall. Because conservatism hasn’t yet been tried in the 21st century! America ought to take it out for spin — real, modern American conservatism, populist conservatism, not that phony compassionate, big-government, Nixon/Ford/Rove/GWB conservatism.

What America needs, right now, really and truly, is real conservativism, not the failures of those who preached conservatism but failed it. (And if you’d like to copy that down from an AEI conference abstract and write it up like Shirley Devine did, Fred Hiatt can easily find you prime WaPo OpEd real estate to make your case).

Conservatism: it never fails. It can only be failed. And Karl Rove and George Bush, tossed in the GOP memory hole by Shirley Devine, are conservativism’s latest betrayers.

Never thought you’d see the day, did you?

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